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Wednesday, December 9. 2009
The Annunciation. Fra Angelico, c. 1430
I wonder how many practicing Christians accept the biological accuracy (rather than the mystical meaning) of the virgin birth.
(The Roman Catholic dogma of Immaculate Conception - an RC dogma as of 1854 - is a separate topic.)
The Isaiah prophecy was that an "alma" or "almah" (Hebrew) will bear a son, and shall call him Immanuel. What's an "alma"?
It sounds like a word that we might translate as a "maiden" or a "maid," because Hebrew has a word for a virgin - "betula." Some view our current take on Isaiah's prophecy as a simple translation error - or even as a deliberate error on the part of translators.
Is it a tempest in a teapot? Is it of deepest significance? If interested, one can Google these topics and read about them endlessly. As an ignorant, relatively unschooled, ordinary Christian, I am not sure that the subject of the virgin birth is all that important but, seeing as it is part of the Apostle's Creed and that there is much mystery and miraculous in Christianity, I guess wiser, deeper people than I am have decided that it is. (To me, all of creation and existence itself is a miracle, and I remind myself daily to remember that.)
The Apostle's Creed goes something like this, with some minor variation:
Posted by Bird Dog in Our Essays, Religion at 11:51 | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)
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Take a look at this: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html
Those are [/galaxies] not stars. If God can create this, why would those who believe in Him think that it is beyond His ability to cause a virgin conception and birth?
Yes, but isn't the (somewhat) converse interesting also? He created billions and billions of galaxies, yet we have what, one or two virgins births (recall some vague reference to possibly J. the B. also) per religious canon? He gave us much evidence to see these galaxies with our own (ok, enhanced) eyes without having to take someone else's word for it. And if He can cause one virgin birth to happen, if I take that one seriously, shouldn't I have to take the possibility of virgin births in other religions seriously?
BTW, wasn't this post up yesterday and it mysteriously disappeared?
You are sharp. It was up for only a few minutes.
I wanted to revise it a bit.
While you were revising I typed this in last nite. No small task for a chicken pecker at the keyboard. So here i go again.
A quiz for you BD so don't cheat!
1. Joseph was from:
2. Jesus was delivered in a:
3. Mary and Joseph were married when Jesus was born.
True or False
4. Which animals does the Bible say were present at Jesus' birth?
A. Cows, sheep, goats
B. Cows, donkeys, sheep
C. Miscellaneous barnyard animals
D. None of the above
5. How many angels spoke to the shepherds?
C. A "multitude"
D. None of the above
6. What did the angels sing?
A. "Joy to the World, the Lord is Come"
C. "Glory to God in the highest, etc."
D. "Glory to the Newborn King"
E. None of the above.
7. How many wise men came to see Jesus?
8. Who told Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem?
A. The angel
C. Caesar Augustus
D. No one told them
9. What did the innkeeper tell Mary and Joseph
A. "There is no room in the inn"
B. "I have a stable you can use"
C. Both A and B
D. None of the above
10. Where do we find the Christmas story in order to check up on these answers?
E. all of the above
F. only A and B
G. only A and C
H. only A, B, and C
Put your thinking cap on BD and your little Lord Fauntleroy suit. I will post the answers at 8:30 pm EST.
Mind if I take a stab there jappy? Scroll down BD (your good at it...sorry couldn't resist) so no cheating...
Going totally off the top of my head with 15 minutes to spare before I go home...and heavily depending on the Linus 1966 retelling which I didn't get to see this year because Obambi wouldn't stfu...
1) C - Naz would be my best guess as that's where JC was "from"
2) B - Stable (expect this is too obvious?)
3) T - Absent some concept of Roman Common Law marriage
4) C - A guess, but I'm also guessing no pigs...but then again there was that story much later about a demon possession...
5) A - I'll go with one spoke but a multitude appeared
6) C - but if you say "they didn't sing it they just spoke it" I'll poke you in the eye
7) I'll go with 3, but if you say "they were kings, not wise men" see above item
8) C or D - they had to go due to C but who told them, I have no idea...probably his mother-in-law
#188.8.131.52.1 KRW on 2009-12-09 18:05 (Reply)
Answers: 1.A 2.D 3.False 4.D 5.A 6.C 7.Unknown 8.C 9.D 10.G
I have 15 more. On the next Christmas link I'll post them.
How did you do?
#184.108.40.206.2 jappy on 2009-12-09 20:25 (Reply)
Paging John MacArthur.
And with regard to creation, Romans 1:20 says it very plainly.
The Gospel of Matthew uses the standard colloquial Greek translation from that time as the source for the Isaiah quote, so in the Christian Bible the new-testament quote of the old-testament passage is unambiguously virgin in both text and understanding. We also have Luke 1:30-35 which doesn't rely on translated scripture but get us to the same result.
The very interesting question is: why is it significant that when Mary conceived she was a virgin? The symbolic and metaphorical purpose might be significant even if you doubt the biology.
As D2 points out, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, made by Alexandrian Jews 150 to 300 years before Jesus, clearly understood the word to mean 'virgin', so they translated it as parthenos.
I thought it was Fra Angelico, not Fran? He is my favorite Christian artist of the Italian Renaissance....his work evokes the faith most effectively, it is deeply and reverently inspired, and instantly recognizable.
My fondest memory of the Apostle's Creed is from Pat Buchanan's wonderful autobiography wherein he describes trying to sneak his Protestant friends into CYO dances. The priests guarding the door would quickly screen out the suspected Prods by demanding they recite the Apostles Creed which, of course, they could not!
It also reminds me of the Baltimore Catechism which my Catholic friends studied and learned beginning at an early age. This kind of "core knowledge" was required of Catholics- but not Protestants- and is actually the root of what is missing from public education these days, that is core knowledge of the secular variety.
I recently read The Making of Americans by E D Hirsch, Jr., the educational reformer who emphasizes K-8 "core knowledge" as the key to all later educational achivement, career success, and good citizenship. The fact that Hirsch is an honest liberal who cannot convince his fellow libs seals the deal in my book. The core knowledge approach just seems to make so much common sense- I guess that is why it is not the norm in American public schools.
Those days of Catholic-Protestant antagonism are long behind us as Catholics and Protestants have come together as never before in the common defense of Christianity. All Christians, I believe, can readily identify with the Apostle's Creed these days. I am glad to see that ecumenism prevails as perhaps it has not since Pre- Reformation days?
"Those days of Catholic-Protestant antagonism are long behind us as Catholics and Protestants have come together as never before in the common defense of Christianity"
So I take it Protestants are now welcome to join in breaking bread in Roman Catholic communions?
My aunt, former nun and vigorous Catholic, tells me that Catholic congregations will generally offer the Host to anyone who approaches it reverently. I attend a Methodist church but I've never actually been excommunicated. I took the Eucharist at my uncle's funeral, the beloved husband of that same aunt. So did a number of others who may never have been Catholic at all.
Well, I've recently been told explicitly at a couple Christmas services and 10 years ago at my father-in-law's funeral. The priests made an explicit point about it. I was raise Methodist and 25 years ago I had taken RC communion thinking it was no big deal only to find out later from some not very RC friends that I had...well, I don't recall what, but they were genuinely surprised, though still thought it funny. But I didn't take them seriously and didn't think it was a big deal until about 10 years ago. I never thought much of the differences until then. Silly.
Only Catholics who have already received the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (First Commmunion) may receive the Eucharist...the exceptions being members of the Orthodox. This is not a "breaking of the bread" or a symbolic gesture as it is among Protestant denominations, but a required faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated host and wine. This faith of transubstantiation is shared between Catholics and Orthodox which is where much of the ecumenical progress is being made now.
You can get a lot of misinformation from former nuns and those Catholics who have a deeper faith in their favorite team than in the teachings of their Church. But you are always welcome to COME HOME. God bless you!
So protestants don't exist in "the real presence of Jesus Christ"? Also, see Ben-David below concerning this whole "virgin" thing. Perhaps the dogma might be what's keeping people from "COMING HOME"? As for making some sort of syntactical argument about "breaking bread", consider the wider implications of Mr. Ben-David's comment.
I am not sure what you mean by "So protestants (sic) don't exist" in your statement. If one does not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist as Catholics do (or are supposed to), then receiving the Eucharist at a Catholic mass is a sham...no matter how touchy-feely "welcoming churchy" it might seem. If you don't believe, by all means come and worship, just don't receive. I don't pray to Allah in the direction of Mecca five times a day. But I don't despise nor argue with those that do.
As for Mr. Ben-David's comments regarding translations (tricky things in light of 3,000 years), they are both moot and besides the point.
#220.127.116.11.1 John Hetman on 2009-12-10 09:07 (Reply)
Yes, moments after I posted I noticed the full context of the "presence" involved JC being actually in the Eucharist. However, I didn't feel it took away from my point. Funny how you can be dismissive about Ben-David's point and so picky about mine...also, thanks for pointing out that I didn't capitalize "Protestants"...helpful bugger, you are.
We could argue this ad infinitum but the more you want to argue, the more it proves the point of my original response to greemntpunter. As for a Protestant's taking communion in a Catholic church being a "sham", such would depend on one's perspective, wouldn't it. Or am I beeing too "touchy-feely" by asserting a different point of view. Stunning you fail to see the arrogance in your "COME HOME" (your caps) statement...but then again, not...
#18.104.22.168.1.1 KRW on 2009-12-10 09:23 (Reply)
Coming late to the discussion leaves me remissed.
Nonetheless, the comedy of unbeliever's piping about the LORD's Virgin Mother has me in stitches.
Dog and Bennie boy plant da biggest roll.
I got a joke, too.
What's da difference between Tiger and Santa?
The situation with the Gospel of Matthew may be even more complicated, because it may be a "second generation" Greek translation of the original. A number of Bible scholars have speculated, and I believe it has been the position of the Catholic Church as well as certain early chuch fathers, that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, and subsequently translated into koine Greek.
The existing Aramaic translation of the Old Testament which is believed to date at least to the second century A.D. (who knows if there were earlier versions that are now lost), also translates Isaiah 7:14 as "virgin."
Not in the practice of the various liturgies but in the broad spirit of Christianity there is more agreement than at anytime in my memory. Alhtough it is at root un-Christian to have enemies, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is the underlying human reality at work. Thank God.
A person may believe in God and God's capacity to produce a virgin birth, a miraculous remission of cancer, and to divert a hurricane to do less damage by making landfall after it weakens. One may believe in God's capacity to do all these things and still doubt how often God does so.
That God could manifest Himself on earth as a human seems easy for any believer to accept. That God would need to be born of a human mother, but not require a human father, starts to get a little hard to follow. That God might choose this path not for His own reasons, but as a metaphor of purity that we His children would understand and respect, at least makes some sense.
The hardest question is the question of salvation but heck, I'll wade on in. I recited the Apostle's Creed as a child and had most of the Roman Catholic sacraments. I attended CCD for years, about the time that CCD abandoned teaching Catholic doctrine and history and went all granola-crunchy touchy-feely. As an adult, I turned again to the question of salvation. I could not accept that God needed a blood price to forgive me or to forgive anyone else. If you're thinking that blew a whole in my conventional Christianity, well, you're right.
The best I've been able to do is to recognize that maybe God didn't need a blood price but He knew many people would need a blood price. They could not believe in a gift of salvation, so God made the death of Jesus-God into something they would grasp. I don't know if I believe God did this or if I'm trying to rationalize something a lot of people believe.
Wow - I am clearly out of my depth here with this great discussion, but I'll take a stab at the original question.
Bird Dog wrote: I wonder how many practicing Christians accept the biological accuracy (rather than the mystical meaning) of the virgin birth.
I'm going to say not many - if they were to tell the truth that is. I believe that there is both a practical approach and a faith based approach that most people take on this question - many folks not being practicing Theologians - which could be fairly described as a "cafeteria" approach to religion, belief and faith.
I'll use myself as an example of what I believe to be mainstream. To me, the concept of the "virgin" birth isn't practical on a human level - we all know, or should anyway, how babies are made. Also, from a practical point of view, a "miraculous" pregnancy doesn't make much sense if Mary went through an entire pregancy (as I understand the historical narrative) without them having made a baby.
Where the miracle occurs is the belief in a Divine Birth - the allegorical construct was made to fit the practical narrative as a matter of faith. Perfectly acceptable and even logical (to me anyway) - God sent his Son to our realm via the physical vessel of Mary AND Joseph - is it really important if it is a miracle or merely the result of physical love between two people?
I say no - it's not important to understand the conception of Christ as a miracle - the miracle is that He was Born of Mary, the Son of God and that should be sufficient for one to have Faith or a belief in God with Christ as his son.
Sven Svenson wrote: why would those who believe in Him think that it is beyond His ability to cause a virgin conception and birth?
Interesting question. If you believe in a omnipotent God who sees all, knows all it's not an impossibility. As a practical matter, why would He consider it to be necessary? Is it that Christ was born without Original Sin and could only have been conceived in this fashion?
Well, that's enough head spinning for one day - my neck hurts. I much prefer talking dogs, mathematics and fishing. :>)
And that, Tom, is where most of us end up at the end of these perplexing intellectual travels - going fishin' or huntin' and having a couple of beers afterwards, all on God's astonishing creation.
And giving thanks for all of it.
And giving thanks for all of it.
Whoops - sorry. Got carried away. :>)
Sorry - the site you linked to is aptly named "apologetics".
The use of the word "betualah" is specific for "virgin".
The use of the word "almah" is non-specific, it simply means maiden - and really tells us nothing about her virginity.
It's telling that the apologetics website quotes the verses describing Rebeccah - the word "almah" is used ONLY in verses where her virginity is not the topic.
In the one verse where her virginity IS the topic, the Torah uses the word "betulah" - when Eliezer first meets her:
"...a virgin, and no man knew her."
If Isaiah wanted to emphasize the miracle of a virgin birth, he would have used the world betulah.
He didn't use that word.
This is a deliberate Christian misreading of Hebrew Scripture.
The things you learn everyday. I learned something about alma - which, as it happens, is my Mother-in-Law's given name.